Writing the 10-Minute Play
While we do occasionally see compilation evenings of short plays in the UK, the ten-minute play is mainly an American beast; while even over there it isn't exactly mainstream, there are competitions, festivals and a number of books of scripts dedicated to the form.
Glenn Alterman is a playwright who began writing when he was a student actor looking for audition pieces, and he ended up writing dozens of audition monologues for others. His ten-minute plays have since been included in many productions and publications.
This book sets out with the intention of teaching the reader the specific skills required to create works for this strict form, but it begins with a lot of general ideas about playwriting and even the broader subject of creative writing, condensing them into such a short space that many are dealt with superficially with the occasional inaccuracy. We do, from time to time, come back to some ideas that are specifically related to the ten-minute play.
After a brief overview in which his terms are not very well-defined, Aristotle is turned into a set of bullet points—as are many other areas—without any explanation about how to apply them to practical writing. The use of acting techniques to write scripts is a bit more interesting (an area on which I've written quite a bit myself) but even there some definitions and examples are a little misleading—"hoping" is not really an "action" in Stanislavskian terms.
The meat of the book is a series of interviews with writers, producers and publishers of ten-minute plays, which contain quite a bit of useful information, although as each person from a particular category has been given identical questions they read more like questionnaires than interviews. Perhaps it would have been more useful, because of this, to organise these chapters by question rather than by person so it would be easier to see the parallels and contradictions between the answers and cut down on repetition.
Finally we get to see some real scripts to put the advice into perspective. There are three complete, sharply-contrasting plays included in the book which work well in showing how the form works in such a short amount of time and how a short play differs from a sketch or scene.
Finally, there are lots of names and addresses of theatres and festivals that accept submissions of ten-minute plays, although all are in the US and some won't accept scripts from outside their country.
The crucial test of any book on writing is whether it makes you want to start writing, and I must confess that it did for me. The ten-minute play is a great exercise for a writer as it doesn't take as long to create as a full-length play but tests the playwright's skills in plotting, pace and economy of language to their limits.
While the writer preaches strong plotting, a solid structure and that every word should be made to count, this book is a bit of a jumble of information, but there are some useful titbits in its pages for anyone thinking of having a go at writing a ten-minute play.
Reviewer: David Chadderton